Ask.com joins the Q&A party

Search site Ask.com launched a Q&A service today, making it the latest in a host of companies to do so, including Quora, Yahoo and Linkedin. The new version of the site will integrate the company’s search technology with a new feature that routes questions to appropriate members of the Ask.com community. Members are selected based on their interests and areas of knowledge.

Q&A services or “social search” has been a hot topic of late because algorithmic search technologies can only go so far in answering people’s questions. For one thing, not all content is in digital format.  Secondly, humans are still better at answering questions such as “What’s the fastest route to take from San Francisco to Campbell at 4pm today?”

Though Ask.com, chose to develop its Q&A service internally, Google decided to shop for an existing service with talented (ex-Google) engineers. In February, the search behemoth acquired social search engine Aardvark. Also, Facebook is rumored to be readying its own Q&A service, while the company’s former CTO recently launched a similar service named Quora, which already boasts an $86 million valuation.

Nonetheless, integrating its own social search functionality into Ask.com would seem to be a smart move. As behemoths such as Google and Facebook enter the social search space, doing nothing does not seem like a valid response. If the new Ask.com service performs well for the site’s 87 million monthly visitors, parent company, IAC, could possibly convince some of its critics of its value (niche or otherwise) within its dwindling share of the search engine market.

According to the company, a new user interface and proprietary search categorization to route questions and solicit high-quality answers are key features of the new service. The new functionality will be initially available in beta by invitation only.